Reimagining Nigeria’s Security through Democratic Policing

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The Nigerian state is haemorrhaging; the cities and villages are flooding; with the blood and tears of citizens. Citizens die every day from insecurity; crime and violence have become the norm. Even security officers are in want of hope.

Last week about 40 security operatives including soldiers and police officers were murdered in an attack on a mining site in Shiroro Local Government Area of Niger State.

The Nigerian State is overwhelmed; the present security architecture has failed; the government is helpless and citizens are forced to live at the mercy of criminals and merchants of crimes and violence.

From Owo to Kajuru, Kukawa, and Jamau, we hear of sordid tales of violence, citizens are subjected to mass death, mass burial and endless tales of misfortune. Institutions that should protect citizens have lost it; jungle justice and mob actions are now the order of the day,  and the capacity of the state institutions to administer justice is weakened.

No doubt, Nigeria is troubled on all sides; security concerns from the North to South of the country, and citizens have continued to be held in captivity of fear and horror as they suffer daily from the indignity of different degrees of insecurities.

Governments at the different tiers are overwhelmed by the spate of violence in their areas, prompting different stakeholders to come up with different security strategies and policies.

From the civilian Joint Task Force (JTF) in the North to Operation Amotekun in the South-West and Ebube Agu in the South East, governments at different levels have tried different means to address the security challenges in the country without success.

The reality in many states is such that governors and other security stakeholders are left with no clear idea on how to salvage the nation from the unfortunate journey to nihilism.

This has prompted some leaders to call on citizens to arm and defend themselves against terrorists and other agents of insecurity. Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara State is the most recent advocate in this group.

The spate of insecurity in the country today testifies to the failure of the Nigerian security system and exposes the weakness of the police force, which constitutionally is charged with the responsibility of maintaining internal security.

The dysfunctional state of the Nigerian police force has created so many gaps in the peace and security architecture of the country.

It is so sad that the military is now involved in many civil operations because of the organisational crisis in the police.

The involvement of the military in internal security operations on a permanent basis is a dysfunctional strategy which has neither helped in maintaining nor achieving sustainable peace in the country.

Their success as it pertains to civil -operations and engagement are always short-lived because on many occasions they do not conform to established rules of engagement which result in the relapse of insecurity.

The authoritarian approach with which security operatives conduct their operations is such that it will be very difficult to achieve sustainable peace and security in the country. Many security operatives in Nigeria conduct themselves as bullies while relating with civilians.

In most cases, they become agents of insecurity who instead of enforcing laws break the laws and infringe on the fundamental human rights of civilians.

The ENDSARS protests of 2020 in Nigeria amplified the decadence of the Nigeria police force and the inherent gaps in the Nigeria security sector.

The protest brought to the fore the lived realities of many citizens; how police officers and other state actors have legitimised extortion and other crimes all in the name of law enforcement.

This wrath in the security and justice sectors will continue to make the search for peace and security elusive.

It is in this regard that the idea of democratic policing becomes very imperative. Yes, Nigeria operates a democratic system of government but the policing operation is largely undemocratic, uncivil and authoritarian in many forms- from public extorting to false imprisonment, aiding and abetting of crimes, policing in Nigeria is a thing of challenge. Policing in Nigeria is not citizen-centred;  priority is placed on the elites in the society. Most times, operations of the police are conducted in a way that protects regimes and those in power instead of national interest, this has led to the loss of legitimacy of the police.

Democratic policing is a policing concept situated on the grounds that the police as an agent of the state are saddled with the responsibility of law enforcement and this requires them to conduct themselves in a manner that promotes peace and security in the society as well as enhance the general state of democracy in a country.

It requires the prioritization of citizens in the day-to-day security operations of the state. Democratic policing emphasizes the participation of citizens in everyday security responsibilities and operations thereby making citizens take ownership of their security.

The implication here is that when citizens take ownership of policing, intelligence is enhanced and citizens will feel a sense of responsibility to protect the peace of their community and work against agents of insecurity.

This is what builds trust and reinforces the legitimacy of the police. The relationship gap between security agencies and citizens has made it difficult for citizens to volunteer information to agents of the state and this has continued to have a negative impact on our quest for peace. Achieving peace and security in Nigeria calls for the deliberate operationalisation of democratic policing, which involves decentralising the structure of the police.

It is in this regard that the call for community policing and other police reforms are urgent and necessary.

Democratic policing serves as a preventive approach toward crimes and violence. It is achieved through tackling deep-rooted causes of insecurity; especially structural issues like economic and social rights and providing avenues whereby citizens can easily access justice when they feel short-changed by the system. It involves creating a conducive atmosphere for security and peace to thrive; boosting the morale of security personnel, and addressing poverty, hunger and corruption in the country.

Considering the prevailing security challenges in the country, the federal government needs to democratise the Nigeria police force and other security outfits; this is the safest route toward sustainable peace, unity and progress in Nigeria. It is in this regard that the government needs to make a greater investment in the areas of social security because in the long run, bullets and drones can win the war but they cannot win the peace.

Ominabo is the Communications Officer at the Goodluck Jonathan Foundation

By Wealth Dickson Ominabo